Microsoft word - gerry's story
Who is Gerry?
We thank our lucky stars everyday that we have a man like Gerry in our lives. You may know him from
his many years of dedicated service here at Caledon and in the industry. He has been our
intrepid International Sales Manager for many years and in that role has made many friends all over the
world and here at home too. Not too long ago however, we got the scare of our lives and nearly lost him
It was Father’s Day, 2006, and an especially hot summer day, I was out working in the yard and felt a
I am a 6’2” 205 lb, 62-year-old male. I am not a smoker, do not drink coffee and there is no
history of cardiac problems or congestive heart failure in my family history. I do not eat beef fat or
pork fat, I skin my chicken before cooking and cook only with canola and olive oils.
Four months earlier, in February, 2006, I had gone to the hospital with a chest pain. After a series of
tests, the diagnosis was gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), symptomatic of common indigestion.
A ten-day bout of prescribed Prevacid seemed to alleviate the problem.
On two other occasions that spring, I experienced similarly taxing events – once in Florida at Pittcon, and
once in Vancouver at the Western Canada Trace Organic Workshop. Both appeared to be a result of
slightly strenuous activity – anyone familiar with Vancouver will know the walk up from the waterfront
around West Georgia & Burrard is not without incline. In both instances, a Prevacid tablet provided relief.
In retrospect, I know that my heart was giving me a warning.
Father’s Day afternoon, and I experienced the onset of chest pain. I once again assumed it was an attack
of GERD and took a Prevacid tablet, but the pain continued, and grew more severe. I began sweating
profusely, had shortness of breath, dry mouth, and some dizziness.
On top of being puzzled by my state, I was angry that I was interrupted from a pleasant activity on a
beautiful summer day. A few minutes of rest would surely be all that I needed. I dismissed my son’s
suggestion to go to the hospital and waited for the pain to subside, to no avail. Then my wife told me that
I was as pale as a ghost, and my son once again suggested, or rather, insisted that he take me to the
I only vaguely remember the trip. I was in the passenger seat, my wife was supporting my head from the
back seat, and my son was barefoot, driving like a bat out of, well, you-know-where. At Trillium Hospital’s
Emergency ward, I remember only some of the multitude of questions, and the utter reluctance of the
doctor to touch me until I had signed the consent form and answered all his questions. I deferred some of
the questions to my wife and son but the doctor seemed particularly adamant that answers should come
By this time the pain was excruciating. I remember thinking, “just do what you need to do and let’s get on
The experience is probably different for every individual but my pain was like a severe case of
indigestion, with a burning sensation in the upper chest cavity as well as someone was squeezing
They gave me a shot of nitroglycerine, but there was no subsequent relief. They gave me two more nitro
shots, but when there was still no response, they eventually gave me morphine. As I drifted into the
heavenly place that the morphine took me, I began to understand how some people become addicted.
When I awoke later on that night, I was in the Critical Care Unit wired up to monitors, IV tubes in both
arms and a nurse pressing a compress bandage against my groin. In the ensuing days, it’s fair to say that
the nurses had to look at my groin and genitals more than my wife had in 30 years of marriage. (I’m not
An intervention cardiologist had performed an angioplasty on me and placed a stent in one of my
coronary arteries. I learned that another coronary artery was 100% blocked, my left anterior descending
artery was 90% occluded, the distal end of the repaired coronary artery was 90% blocked, and yet
another artery was 70% blocked. My heart had suffered permanent damage perhaps to the tune of 20-
It was a beautiful Father’s Day afternoon that I was spending in the garden with my family. Now, I
was lying in the critical care unit of a hospital with a suffocating heart.
My cardiologist wanted me to have a Cardiac Arterial Bypass Graft (CABG) done immediately, but the
Head of Cardiac Surgery felt that I would have a better chance of a favourable outcome by going home
for a month to let my heart recover before surgery.
Whom should I trust, the cardiologist or the cardiac surgeon?
A realization such as this provides not only the time, but the justification and the fuel for some self-
I am alive and feeling good. Should I take the risk of going under the knife? What are my chances
of survival? What are my risks if I do not get surgery? Chances are very high that in a month, 6
months, 1 year, I will suffer from another episode if nothing is done. A second heart attack or new
myocardial infarct would probably be fatal.
Is my faith strong enough to see me through this situation? Why has the Almighty chosen to afflict
me with this burden? Should I call on Him to help me or has my welcome worn out?
Perhaps rather than have the bypass surgery, I should use whatever time I had left to get my
The prospect of dying did not frighten me. While I did not want to die, my concern was for my family.
After all, death would release me from worry, care, and pain, but in dying, those troubles would accrue as
pain onto the shoulders of my wife, my daughter and my son.
I thought about my daughter – she had become engaged the previous year and was planning her
wedding for the following autumn. Would I live to see her walk down the aisle? …to meet any
A second heart attack or new myocardial infarct would probably be fatal.
Being an eternal optimist, I resolved that I needed to do whatever it was that was required to ensure my
longevity. I could not do more than wish for a grandchild, but I was determined that I would do everything
in my power to attend my daughter’s wedding.
Cardiologist or the cardiac surgeon? My gut (in hindsight, maybe it was my heart) told me to go with the
I stayed in the hospital, feeling relatively good, doing laps of the corridors every day and waiting for the
doctors to come to a decision- go home for a month or obtain surgery immediately. The cardiac surgeon
finally said that, pending my consent, they believe that my heart has recovered sufficiently to be able to
Almost three weeks after my initial visit to Emergency, I was transferred back to the operating theatre for
the 5-6 hour quadruple cardiac by-pass surgery.
The trepidation in the minds of many heart attack victims makes them unaware of the level and
crippling nature of the anxiety that one’s family undergoes while they wait for the outcome. A
periodic update from an O.R. nurse is well-meaning, but often feels like too-little, too-little, far-too-
little. My family was updated after 90 minutes, which was about 85 minutes later than they would
have liked, but they also acknowledge that they’d rather have the nurses in the O.R. where they
can do some good, instead of running out to provide status reports to them.
All my family could do, is wait, and cry, and pray. There just aren’t any other options.
All my reports were positive, including the final one from the doctor, who came out to tell my family that
the operation had gone well and that I was in recovery.
They could see me briefly, but I would not be awake till around midnight, so they might as well go home.
My wife called the hospital around 10:00pm, and to her surprise, I was awake. She tells me that we
conversed briefly, but I don’t remember a word. (Good thing she didn’t know my state of mind, or I might
In the hospital, I stayed in a semi private room, so I had the company of room-mates, some of whom were
less interesting, but others were, well, eccentric. There was a gentleman who removed his adult diaper to
avoid soiling it (and instead soiled the bed). There was the senior who played ‘hide & seek’ with his
oxygen tube, later insisting that it was never turned on. Finally, my favourite was the man who, despite
being catheterized, would venture to the bathroom to urinate, and complain when he couldn’t.
My room-mates provided sufficient diversion to have the days pass without being entirely
boring. However, the nurses who dealt with these characters (and with me) are truly angels in every
sense of the word- caring, considerate, loving, patient, and helpful. Throughout all of the escapades that
my roommates and I made them endure, the attending nurses didn’t once deviate from being professional
The technicians were also excellent, with the possible exception of one phlebotomist who earned a
nickname unflattering to her job, because she got blood regardless of the circumstance. Pain from her
In the weeks following my release, I had to learn to slow down, not just for my health, but I couldn’t
actually move faster than a snail’s pace. It’s been a tough road. Before my episode, a shower used to
take 3 minutes, after, it took me 20 minutes, and I had to rest for 30 more. Getting down a flight of stairs
was routine before, but post-surgery, it took 5 minutes, with a 5 minute rest. I used to go to bed at
midnight, now it’s 8:00pm, and I would wake up through the night due to excruciating lower back pain.
My home exercise regimen consisted of one lap around the dining room, kitchen and family room after
which I needed to rest. My goal, that I eventually achieved, was to progress to 10 laps around the
house. (the carpet is in need of replacement)
My rehabilitation classes included treadmill, stationary bicycle, weightlifting and stretching, interspersed
with stress tests to ensure that my vital statistics were improving. Keeping with it is the key, I learned.
After five weeks, my wife was doting on me hand and foot, inquiring constantly about my pain level,
should I have a sleep, should I not go up the stairs. I guess I’m fortunate but I did have to ask my family
I went in the hospital weighing 205 lbs; at one point during my recovery, I was 178 lbs. – that’s a loss of
over 13% of my body mass. Mementos include a 12 inch scar on my left arm, a 6 inch scar on my right
leg and another 6 inch scar down the middle of my chest. The emotional mementos are the memories
In early 2007, I welcomed a 2-day-a-week return to Caledon, where I could focus my attention on
something that was productive external to my body. It was good to be back in work mode, finally.
My energy level is lower now than prior to my heart attack. I get tired more quickly even though I am
probably in better physical shape now than before my cardiac episode. I am working out (lightly), 5 days a
week. My resting heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels are good. This is not independent of a
I had spent a lifetime selling to the healthcare industry, now my body was dependent on it to
I have learned that 30 minutes of daily exercise, along with a diet of moderation (low fat intake, lots of
carbohydrates and veggies) can reduce the risk of cardiac problems, diabetes and cancer. Despite my
apparent healthy lifestyle, I had, over 62 years, almost entirely blocked the arteries that supply blood to
my heart. “Get active. Eat vegetables. Reduce fat.” It’s always in the news, but until there’s a reason to
listen, we really don’t hear
it. Most of us don’t recognize the reason to listen until we are affected directly
and severely (and only then, when it’s not fatal).
I suspect that most of the people will not, as a result
of reading this, change the lifestyle to which they’re
become accustomed, regardless of how much they
health. Unfortunately, IWHTM-itis (“it-won’t-happen-
to-me”-itis) is rampant - what affects the average
person does not affect us
, (until, of course, it does).
If there is someone though, who, as a result of this
story, starts to think about their lifestyle and the
improvements that they can make, and the cause-
and-effect that it will have on their long-term-health,
and they make a positive change that nets them a
healthier future, free of episodes like my Father’s Day
No thanks necessary, I get enough every time I see my adorable grandson."
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